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The Lesson of the Stone

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August 2008
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In my Midsummer adventure in the forests of Frontenac forest, one of the lessons I was taught was given by and upon a stone.  I rested as I wondered lost in the woods, following the deer paths and my guides.  Amid the tangled underbrush a large flat boulder appeared and I sat upon it willingly because it was dry and the rest of the ground still somewhat damp.  There I spoke to my elf-friend Endymion.  We touched upon the subject of time because although I didn’t know where I was exactly, I did have my watch on my wrist so that I knew (by the clock anyway) when I was.  I commented how it seemed as if far more time had passed on the clock that was strictly speaking proper.  This is a common occurence when one is taken into Faerie, but I asked for an explanation.  “Time is an illusion” I was told, and I have myself said this same thing for years.  “How?”

The example of the stone was presented to me.  The perception of existing in time, or of “moving through time” as if it were a medium, is a matter of perception and attention.  One exists so long as one’s attention is focused upon a particular place.  So, “time” as such does not exist.  Only place exists, and the mind’s attention directed upon that place.  If I am not present, that is not “in a place” then I do not exist there.  So, when I left camp and disappeared into the forest, the others in the camp may have missed me or not.  They may have wondered where I was or what had happened.  Later, I learned that they had all gone swimming. In either case, however, for that interval, my attention was in the forest, in the place where I was.  So, I did not exist in camp.  I was absent.  It sounds like I am stating the obvious, but the lesson of the stone is that for a stone, it remains in one place for, as we say, a very long time, because it choses to focus its attention on one place for a very long time.  We humans choose to focus our attention in many consecutive places.  We move through space. We do not “move through time.”

This idea is so hard to convey in our temporal language.  We are so used to talking about actions taking place “in time” or for some measure of “duration.”  But what endures is simply our attention.  And indeed those who walk about oblivious to their surroundings, are out of joint, not quite here or there.  Time seems to pass either too slow or too fast and they wonder why.  It is not “time that passes” but their attention that is not on the place where they are.  Humans have (in the West at any rate) spent a very long time constructing this notion of existence that sees us as bodies moving through space and time.  The lesson of the stone, and the explanation of Endymion is that we are minds, points of attention moving through space, including in a body.  Our attention may be fixed in one body and it may move to another body.  The first body ceases to exist for us.  The second body becomes “where we are” until we shift our attention.

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?  The answer is, yes, because the tree is always there to hear it.  But we have these strange notions as a result of thinking that everything exists in an imaginary medium the physicists have called “time.”  No doubt the concept has its uses, but it has historically had the effect of limiting human perception rather horribly. We no longer perceive all our lives, all our existences as One. Even modern New Age thinkers adopt the idea of reincarnation and “past lives” as if one can only have one existence at a time.  Such a statement would only be true if that silly time line was real.  But it is not.  It is a convenient map for a concept.  Yet how much religion has been based on it?  The Western spiritual view is that souls move from some paradise to a body and back to paradise.  Among the Hindus and New Age afficionados a soul may be inarnated successively.  But that a soul might live a thousand lives “simultaneously” seems unthinkable because we have shackled ourselves with Time.

This was the lesson of the stone.  It does not free me from the too long to-do list (that bane of my existence) but if I could attend to the lesson better, it might.  How often have you wished there were two or three of you so you could get more done?  Well, there are.  And they are all busy getting things done.  They are all building that complex living organism called You.  It exists extended in space, moving, changing shape, the attention of its mind moving here and there.  Does it exist everywhere?  No, it is not infinite.  But it is a lot less finite than you were taught to think.

OWL

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